COLUMBUS, Ohio – In an odd and unexpected moment of candor, Sixers coach Brett Brown dropped a bombshell.
Nerlens Noel, the team's prized draft-night acquisition, probably won't play this season. He has been recovering from a torn ACL suffered Feb. 12 while playing for Kentucky.
Brown revealed the news nearing the end of a routine pregame interview when a reporter asked about Noel’s progress.
"Slow,” Brown said before the Sixers' preseason game against Cleveland. "I doubt, I think everybody doubts he is going to play this year. But he is with us in every way in terms of practices and shoot-around, film session. It is a classroom opportunity for him to learn [about] me and the NBA. We don’t want to waste this year.”
That said, this is not an official annoncement. Brown did offer a bit of hope that Noel could be play -- in part because it is possible and in part because it's Brown’s gut feeling.
“It most definitely was not the plan all along, and I think it is a work in progress,” Brown said. “It was a decision I thought was going to be made, but nobody ever said to me that this is a definite. I think everybody is expecting it to be a definite decision, but even now as we speak no one has said that this is 100 percent certainty.”
Brown appears certain that Noel's game will improve over the next year. The 19-year-old is often seen shooting free throws after practice or even taking on his coach in a game of Horse.
“This has been an opportunity to break down his shot, really work on his free throw and start a little bit from ground zero,” Brown said. “He has bought in. He’s been great. On my staff we have Greg Foster, who played 13 years as an NBA big, so he can pay attention to him. Although we won’t see him on the court, I feel a little bit better about his path with him being with us.”
Considered the likely top pick in this year's draft, Noel was drafted sixth by New Orleans and traded to the Sixers, who parted with Jrue Holiday but also received a protected, top-five, 2014 first-round pick.